Fentanyl-Laced Counterfeit Pills Are Infiltrating Drug Market, DEA Warns

By John Lavitt 07/27/16

A new DEA report warns that the widespread counterfeit pill phenomenon, “is becoming a trend, not a series of isolated incidents.”

Fentanyl-Laced Counterfeit Pills Are Infiltrating Drug Market, DEA Warns

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration has warned of counterfeit prescription painkillers laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The incredibly powerful pills have proven deadly on account of the drug’s intense potency. Given their power, however, they are proving to be quite popular with drug users out to find the ultimate high.

Ever since Prince’s overdose, the danger of fentanyl has been a popular subject in the nationwide media. With the influx of hundreds of thousands of the synthetic painkiller, the risk has grown exponentially as the U.S. drug market has been infiltrated. According to the DEA, the widespread counterfeit pill phenomenon “is becoming a trend, not a series of isolated incidents.”

Pressed using pharmacy-grade machines to look like the prescription painkillers that many addicts buy illegally on a regular basis, the pills are anything but the normal rush. Fentanyl is between 50-100 times more powerful than morphine. As a result, a few extra grains of the drug can prove deadly.

“Fentanyl will continue to appear in counterfeit opioid medications and will likely appear in a variety of non-opiate drugs as traffickers seek to expand the market in search of higher profits," the DEA warns in the report. "Overdoses and deaths from counterfeit drugs containing fentanyl will increase as users continue to inaccurately dose themselves with imitation medications.”

Illicit fentanyl first appeared as a heroin additive, but it has now become the focus. Given its synthetic origins, fentanyl is being sourced by chemists in Chinese laboratories. The DEA report reveals that many of these laboratories also produce pharmaceuticals that are sold legally in the U.S. 

Counterfeit prescription drugs are unregulated, so anything can happen. With fentanyl, the untrained eye cannot distinguish between what will do the job and what will kill. Over four million people used prescription painkillers in 2014 for non-medical reasons, and that number has only been growing ever since. DEA spokesman Melvin Patterson said, “It’s a huge concern. People don’t know what they are getting.” The result has been more unexpected overdoses. 

Beyond trying to warn the public, the DEA report provides a detailed look into the extremely profitable fentanyl trade that is rapidly growing. Crossing Chinese, Mexican, Canadian, and finally, American borders, every international gang wants a piece of the action. After all, a very small amount produces huge profits. 

The DEA estimates that 666,666 pills can be made per kilo and sold at $10-$20 each. Although it’s probably not the devil behind the influx of fentanyl, the multimillions of dollars that drug dealers stand to make from distributing the counterfeit prescription painkillers is on track to intensify the U.S. opioid epidemic. 

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.